Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.04.08

Dionysios Chalkomatas, Ciceros Dichtungstheorie: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der antiken Literaturästhetik. Klassische Philologie Bd. 3.   Berlin:  Frank & Timme, 2007.  Pp. 399.  ISBN 9783865960696.  €39.80 (pb).  

Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, Los Angeles

[Although this book bears an imprint date of 2007, it arrived with BMCR only in November 2009; hence this relatively late review; an outline of contents is given at the end.]

In this revised 2005 Giessen dissertation, Chalkomatas claims that, though not transmitted in a single work, Cicero's theory of poetry forms a coherent unit and has been an influential paradigm; this review will, of course, have to be selective. The introduction offers a survey of the literature on the relation of rhetoric and poetics in which the basic criticism is that the line between poetics and rhetoric has been erased -- an ironic launching pad for a study that, in its own way, also attempts to erase the distinction between rhetoric and poetics.

The first chapter is devoted to genre theory and poetics and includes a survey of individual poetic genres. Here much material is uncontroversial, but the discussion of De optimo genere oratorum 1-3 illustrates a wider difficulty in separating poetics from rhetoric. Now the Neoatticists evidently aimed to establish separate oratorical models in each of the three types of style (low, middle, high), whereas Cicero wanted to see Demosthenes recognized as the "perfect" orator (and thus the all-sufficient model); he thus argues against the analogy to poetic genres evidently invoked by the Neoatticists. In particular Cicero says 'oratorum autem si quis ita numerat plura genera, ut alios grandis aut gravis aut copiosos, alios tenuis aut subtilis aut brevis, alios eis interiectos . . . , de hominibus dicit aliquid, de re parum. in re enim quid optimum sit quaeritur, in homine dicitur quod est'. Here, as the transitional particle 'autem' shows (in contrast to poetic genres discussed previously), Cicero is speaking throughout of oratory/orators, whereas Chalkomatas thinks that 'in homine dicitur quod est' refers to "die dichterische Situation" as "etwas in moralisch-ästhetischer Hinsicht von vornherein Abgeschlossenes" (p.27).

The treatment of the relation of Cicero to the author of the tract On the Sublime illustrates further difficulties. Chalkomatas argues for a Ciceronian concept of the 'sublime' ("das Erhabene") similar to that found in pseudo-Longinus (pp.36-38). He knows that the 'sublime' as described by [Longinus] involves 'intensity' and 'grandeur'. Though he concedes that Cicero has no word for 'intensity', he thinks that the traditional stylistic categories (gravitas, suavitas, genus grande, illustris oratio etc.) may imply it; but these were evidently created for a quite different project. To construe an affinity of Cicero for 'grandeur' Chalkomatas points to "Ciceros anscheinend konstanter Wahl von grossartigen poetischen Themen und Motiven" [sc. in his own poetry], of which he gives examples. But except for part of the Aratea Cicero's verse survives only in quotations, a circumstance favoring the choice of grand themes that may not be representative. Moreover, even if Chalkomatas' argument were accepted, it would still be far from showing that as a theorist Cicero was similar to [Longinus]; he might, for instance, have thought 'grandeur' an appropriate mode for certain types of scenes or thoughts but not have allotted it the same place-value in the overall scheme of things.

Chalkomatas goes so far as to claim that the similarities between Cicero and [Longinus] are so close as to suggest use of a common source (he does not venture to say what that might have been). But this seems implausible. [Longinus] is generally viewed as "a remarkable and perhaps isolated figure in the cultural context of his age" who developed his theories in reaction to the essay On the Sublime of the Augustan rhetorician Caecilius Calactinus and by combining elements of Stoic and Peripatetic theory.1 The rhetorical theories of the mature Cicero are similarly best seen as his individual creation in light of his own practice, Peripatetic theory and, later, in reaction to the Neoatticists.

After discussion of poetic genre theory in Plato and Aristotle, chapter 1 attempts to work out Cicero's views of tragedy and epic in the basis of his embedded quotations. This is clearly a comparison of apples and oranges: if we had to reconstruct their views based upon the poetic texts they quote, we might have very different picture of the poetic theories of Plato and Aristotle. To make things still more difficult, Chalkomatas uses as his basis for reconstructing Cicero's view of tragedy De oratore 3.216-19, a passage from the section on delivery illustrating that different emotions entail different modulations of voice and gesture (for the orator as well as the actor). What can one infer for Cicero's understanding of tragedy? That he regarded tragedy as a prime locus for finding different (often intense) emotions, but that does not really carry Chalkomatas' project very far.

In a discussion of ethos and pathos in post-Aristotelian literary theory, Chalkomatas takes De orat. 2.178 ff. as his basic Ciceronian source. Here he is keen to remove Cicero's remarks from their rhetorical context and find Cicero transcending forensic rhetoric by inserting crypto-literary claims, hidden reference to mimesis etc. (cf. pp.120 ff.). For example, he cites Antonius' words at 2.184 'hoc [sc. the portrayal of character] vel in principiis vel in re narranda vel in perorando tantam habet vim, si est suaviter et cum sensu tractatum, ut saepe plus quam causa valeat'. He finds that this statement points "weit über die Grenzen der forensischen Rhetorik hinaus" in that "wenn das produzierte Ethos gut ist, dann erfüllt es nicht nur seine forensischen Pflichten, sondern es entsteht daraus eine Mimesis, die . . . reine 'delectatio' ist . . ." (p.123). But it is doubtful that the unphilosophical, or rather anti-philosophical Antonius (cf. De orat. 2.155-56) is represented as making any such claim. What he is saying, rather, is that the portrayal of character, in whatever part of the speech, if it is handled in an agreeable and sensible way, often has greater potency than the case, i.e. in persuading the jurors; no extrajudicial reference is implied. Similar strictures could be offered on Chalkomatas' other efforts to move Antonius' argument outside the forensic sphere.

The second chapter is devoted to style. Here Chalkomatas is keen to deny that Cicero uses the doctrine of the three styles (low, middle, high) as a normative/exclusive model. But the detailed argument is flawed by his attempts to draw distinctions among 'orationis genus', 'dicendi genus' and 'figura orationis' as used in De orat. 3.210-12 (pp.160-61), which are simply examples of Ciceronian variatio. Opt. gen. 1-3 is again misinterpreted (p.162): the 'genera' referred to there are the sub-genres within oratory evidently posited by the Neoatticists but rejected by Cicero, not 'genera orationis' in the sense of the theory of three styles. Chalkomatas goes on to discuss Cicero's relation to Hermogenes' theory of styles, first claiming that Cicero is on the way to developing a system of "ideas" (p.165), later that the system of "ideas" "erscheint . . . schon bei Cicero" (p.167). Now both Cicero and Hermogenes were engaged in a close study of Demosthenes to determine his characteristic qualities, so there is a certain similarity, but Chalkomatas' latter claim is based on terms used in the discussion of rhythm at De orat.3.176-77; they are taken out of context and juxtaposed with quite different Hermogenian expressions; and not one of Hermogenes' major "ideas" is among them. Chalkomatas goes on to discuss what he sees as the most important "ideas" for Cicero's literary criticism, 'suavitas', 'gravitas' and 'illustris oratio' (p.206); but the attempt to locate the last item between Hermogenes' σαφήνεια and καθαρότης (pp.177-80) is Procrustean. Better to acknowledge that there are differences and that Cicero is at most "on the way" toward a system like Hermogenes'. The strong point in this chapter is the discussion of Cicero's expansion of the theory of metaphor beyond the Aristotelian concept (pp.195-200).

When Chalkomatas discusses φαντασία in chapter III, he focuses on De orat. 2.189 (Antonius on the importance of the orator's feeling the emotions he seeks to stir in the audience). Antonius says inter alia that if feigned emotions were exclusively used, one might need to find a higher art ('maior ars'). This is part of the argument that feigned emotions are inadequate; it is not that Antonius is actually proposing a 'maior ars'; but this argumentative context melts away when Chalkomatas discusses the phrase 'maior ars' and tries to fill it with content (pp.224 and 226). The last passage discussed in detail in this chapter is Orat. 7-10, where Cicero describes the 'summus orator' in Platonic terms; Chalkomatas rightly says that here Cicero has created "eine neue . . . ganz unplatonische 'Idee' " (p.238). In order to connect the passage with the theme of φαντασία, however, he tries, unconvincingly, to make it appear as Stoic as possible. Thus the sentence 'quod neque oculis neque auribus neque ullo sensu percipi potest, cogitatione et mente complectimur' does not refer to Stoic epistemology but describes the status of Platonic ideas; similar strictures apply to his treatment of the phrases 'ad cogitatam speciem', 'in eaque defixus' and 'sub oculos non cadunt' (p.240).

The last substantive chapter, IV, discusses Cicero's picture of the poet. The claims that for Cicero the poet, like the orator, needs 'ingenium' and education and that there is a special poetic language are uncontroversial. Difficulties set in, however, when Chalkomatas tries to interpret Div. 1.80 as evidence for "das psychische Leid des Künstlers" (p.260). In fact, the 'cura et timor' there are reactions (of persons in general) to an image ('species'), grave words ('gravitas vocum') and songs ('cantus'), as illustrated in the sequel; cf. Wardle ad loc. When he discusses 'docere' as one of the functions of poetry, Chalkomatas seeks to place Cicero, not without violence, in the context of a Hellenistic discussion of the early poets as σοφόι. But unlike the Greek sources, De orat. 3.55-58 does not point to "die Dichter als Lehrer" (p.266). Cicero's topic in this passage is eloquentia; there is no mention of its dividing into prose and poetry. Cicero cites examples of Greek and Roman statesmen, Lycurgus, Pittacus, Solon, Coruncanius, Fabricius, Cato, Scipio; Solon was, of course, also a poet, but this fact is not mentioned. So Cicero, unlike Strabo, hardly states that poetry is the "Hauptvertreterin" of early wisdom, nor does Chalkomatas cite any evidence that Cicero viewed rhetoric as "ein Sprössling und eine Fortsetzung der alten Dichtung" (p.267).

To sum up: Chalkomatas displays an admirable grip on various poetic theories, ancient and modern, but his attempts to connect the theories with Cicero's texts regularly misfire. Why? Perhaps there is simply not enough solid evidence for Cicero's theorizing of poetry; hence Chalkomatas' fairly desperate attempts to impose meaning, whether by retrojecting onto Cicero [Longinus] On the Sublime and Hermogenes' theory of "ideas" or by taking individual Ciceronian words or phrases out of context and trying to equate them with Greek terms. He also fails to offer a sustained argument about the subsequent influence of Cicero's supposed theory. Hence the ambitious promises made at the outset remain unfulfilled.

I. Gattungstheorie und Gattungspoetik
A. Das Konzept der Gattungspoetik
B. Die Gattungen
II. Stiltheorie
A. Dreistillehre und Stilkategorien
B. Latinitas
C. Ornat
III. Mimesis und Phantasie
IV. Der Dichter
A. Produktionsästhetik. Der Dichter als Ästhetiker
B. Wirkungsästhetik. Ästhetische Erfahrung und Ästhetik des Nutzens
Ergebnisse. Rekapitulation der Hauptthesen
Appendix I: Zum Gebrauch der wichtigsten poetologischen Termini bei Cicero
Appendix II: Die Tropen und Figuren in Ciceros poetischen Fragmenten Literatur


1.   See C. Segal, " ὝΨΟΣ and the Problem of Cultural Decline in the 'De sublimitate'," HSPh 64 (1959), 121-46 (the quoted words at p.140); for Caecilius' essay, see frr. 82 ff. Ofenloch.

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